The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan, China, on 31st December 2019. Since then the world has gone into a state of panic, and countries have gone under lockdown to further prevent the spread of the virus. One of the first industries to be hit by this lockdown was the travel and tourism industry. Naturally, one of the establishments to take the hit along with hotels, online booking agents, etc were travel agencies. While various vaccine trials are under progress, there is no clear sight as to when everything will return to a state of normalcy.
This points to a bigger problem. The travel industry doesn’t really have a lot of savings as its business strategy around a problem-free environment. This includes the ability to travel from one place to another freely, open borders, etc. Hotels and travel agencies have had to lay off a lot of employees as a part of keeping the business alive.
In Hawaii, unemployment rates skyrocketed as air traffic stopped entirely and everything was brought to a standstill. In Ladakh, dependency on travel to earn a living is high, as many people have made it their livelihood. With a lockdown in place, bookings are down and people have stopped traveling, causing businesses to be closed down permanently. The plight of these businesses is furthered by the fact that it is currently the travel season in many parts of the world. It is their time to earn. If we take the case of hotels themselves, the big luxury hotels who depend on large scale corporate, banquet bookings, and high profile parties are the ones that are hit the worst. The mid-tier and economy scale hotels are slightly better off in that respect.
Since all these industries cant function properly, travel agencies that provide various packages and liaise between the hotels and the customers have been hit the worst.
Some aid packages and loans are being dispatched by various governments to help these industries in dire need. There are three likely scenarios that can take place once we have completely recovered from the pandemic:-
The V curve scenario entails that business continues as normal. It is supported by some data from past flu shocks. This indicates that although business is affected by the current uncertainty, it picks up as soon as the situation returns to normal.
The L curve projects a more scary image. It may take many years to recover from the pandemic. International travel restrictions are expected to exist after to linger on until the vaccine is available to the masses in order to prevent a second or third wave.
The U curve projections are the most likely to come true. Although we can’t expect a speedy recovery, we are not so far gone so as to not be able to recover fast enough. A minimum of two years is the projected time in which the industry will make a full recovery. This model is also supported by the fact that the Mid May consumer sentiment result which says that people still rank leisure travel as number one post-COVID. Hence we can assume that the basic human sentiment towards travel remains unchanged, ensuring a recovery. The money being poured into the global economy is another reassurance as it helps in holding the stock market afloat, which is essential in case of a recovery.
There is some form of hope as China, the country of origin for the virus is curbing its travel restrictions and people are getting ready to travel within the country. An interesting study also showed that the moment travel restrictions were lifted, there was an up tick in the download of air travel applications indicating a desire to continue as normally as it is possible.
Various hotels and travel agencies have initiated various campaigns to deal with the current situation, some of the more noteworthy once are as follows:-
Click travel, A U.K based travel agency, is asking hotels to contact them before closing down. They are doing so so that health care and essential workers can take rest at these lodges. They have taken up block bookings to provide accommodation for their clients.
Fab hotels in a bid to keep social distancing in mind while giving corporates a safe space to work launched their work from hotels campaign. A lot of companies like Larsen and Tubro are opting for this option as it ensures productivity. They have also sheltered care workers and front line workers in COVID affected areas at a reduced rate. As flights and trains resume in India, they have launched a new initiative called “100% safe hotels”. These are hygienic, safe, and disinfected staying options for people who are traveling. They are also developing a contactless method for check-in and check out.
News of China slowly making its way out of the pandemic along with some other countries in Europe and the U.S is a strong reason for hope. Although we cannot expect a fully-fledged recovery immediately, we must assume that humans are social creatures and therefore, must travel. It is a long way towards interstate travel within countries as they need to figure out a safe way to control the number of infections to a bare minimum. Then after there is a vaccine in place, we can hopefully open up the borders towards international travel.
A study shows that there will be an uptick in the local travel industry as people will want to travel within the country first just to be on the safer side. The business travel industry is also expected to bounce back. Although modern technology has helped a lot in keeping communication and work on for various companies, it is not nearly as effective as face to face meetings. The whole dynamic changes when people meet in person.
Of course, all this will take time as the consumer will have to regain their trust and confidence in travel, and the industry will have to work hard to regain trust. Also, not all cities will open at the same time as the others, which will still result in some travel restrictions. People will also be a bit afraid to travel because of the lingering health risks.
It will no doubt change the industry as agencies will now not only have to provide leisure and fun but also the safety of the client in terms of health from arrival to departure of the client.
There will also be a great focus on automating the whole travel experience as much as possible, from booking to verification of documents and whatnot.
Along the road, the focus will be on a more personalized travel experience for the customers, safe travel arrangements, focusing on automation, etc. Something else that will come to focus is exploring new travel destinations. Catering to a varying group of people will also be in focus. Making international travel affordable for the middle class of developing countries is a likely step being considered by various companies in a bid to tap into a new market.
Although the predictions look bad, similar shock patterns as observed during 9/11, MERS outbreak, SARS outbreak, and the swine flu indicate that although a return to normalcy is difficult, it is not entirely impossible.
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